Apr. 20—So, it was Friday afternoon and I'd been tapped to write a weather story.
You know. About that big nor'easter that was allegedly causing mayhem. Of some sort. Somewhere.
I complained to a photographer, who was out taking photos of wet telephone poles and such for the BIG STORM story.
"There's no snow or wind where I'm at and right now there are a mere 750 people without power," I groused. "How am I supposed to turn THAT into a story?"
That's when the photog hit me with the magic.
"You should give a shout-out to all 750 of them," she said. "Report on every single one."
It was a brilliant idea, frankly, and I was a little disappointed I didn't think of it myself. So I got a list of each of the 750 people who were out of power and I started knocking on doors.
OK, no I didn't. But can you imagine it? In some regions, towns are wee enough that the local newspaper can localize their news to that level and maintain a more intimate relationship with the leaders.
Or something. While I was supposed to be writing that stupid weather story, I was instead fantasizing about how awesome it would be to cover news in such a hyper-local way.
Consulting my CMP power outage list, I knock on a door on outer Webster Street in Lewiston.
"Hello, Mr. Snodgrass," I say to the robed, scruffy-faced fellow within. "I'm told you are one of just a few hundred people who lost electrical power this morning. Can you tell me what that experience was like?"
And to think I didn't go to college for this stuff.
"Well," Mr. Snodgrass tells me, and I really wish he'd close that robe a little tighter. "I was three hours into a tense round of Mortal Kombat and was just putting a finishing move on sorcerer Quan Chi using my supply of death trap tokens when the lights went out. Can you imagine it? Now I've got to start out at the lowest realm and my wife gets home from work in two hours. She thinks I spent the day out looking for a job."
Next door I find a man named Ditmeyer who reports that he had just been befriended by a beautiful woman named Natasha on Facebook and was about to hand over his credit card information when the power went out.
"It's just my luck," Mr. Ditmeyer sobbed. "Now how is Natasha supposed to travel here from the Ukraine?"
A couple doors down I find a man who doesn't have time to talk because he has something very important in a basement chest freezer that began to defrost when the power went out.
"Do you smell anything?" the mad-eyed gentleman demands of me while sniffing at the air. "Does it smell like decaying human flesh to you? Because it's not! Say ... you don't happen to have a hacksaw in your car, do you?"
And on and on I would go, up and down the windy streets, knocking on the doors of darkened homes and collecting story after story just like these.
I wouldn't be limited to power outages, either. If I covered a town small enough, practically anything at all that happened would be fodder for my notebook.
On Mustache Drive, Mr. Archibal Tiberius Johnson reports that he won a thousand bucks from a scratch ticket down at Dumplings Variety and Bait Store while he was there picking up corn pads.
"And if my tosspot kids think they're getting any of that, they can think again, the lazy %#! bums!"
Out on Corpuscle Lane, Miriam Doohickey is pleased to announce the engagement of her nephew Elrod to an enchanting lass due to arrive any day now from the Ukraine.
On the deadend stretch of Mayweather Road, Mrs. Emma Spudruckle reports that the early bloom of her hibiscus this spring is a sure sign that she's set to win the annual crab apple pie contest, which has been so treacherously stolen from her in recent years. And when she says "treacherously stolen," you know who she's talking about, too, slattern.
Romantic gossip; gardening rivalries that frequently result in fistfights; award-winning recipes; accusations of witchcraft; record-setting tubers (possibly due to the influence of witchcraft, now that you mention it); nuptial oddities; yard sale finds; arts and craft glory; pet news . . .
In fact, if I could be in charge of a whole section on pet news alone, I would be a happy camper. Maybe there was a day when I didn't care much about what new trick Mrs. Evelyn Hardscrabble's Siamese learned at the ripe old age of 17, but these days? Sign me up.
You think I'm poking fun, but I'm not. I've covered downtown Lewiston for going on three decades and I've had a blast with it, mostly.
But there is a certain kind of salt-of-the-earth charm about local scuttlebutt that is exclusive to the American small town. If that's where I ended up going forward, I'd have no complaints.
Even small-town police matters have their own charm.
When I was visiting my brother in Marblehead, Mass., a few years ago, I found myself browsing through one of the town's weekly papers and the police log was sheer delight.
7:18 p.m. Tuesday. Dill Pickle Road. Mrs. M reports three suspicious youths standing on the corner.
9:19 a.m. Wednesday. Clovis Lane. Mr. J called to report that a Kiku apple, more yellow than red in color, fell from a neighbor's yard and into his garden, crushing a garlic shoot. Mr. J doesn't wish to see an officer, but wants it on record.
1:14 p.m. Tuesday. Dill Pickle Road. Mrs. M reports that the suspicious youths are back, only now there are only two of them. One is wearing a pointy cap.
5:35 p.m. Wednesday. Carbunkle Street. Mr. and Mrs. G report dog excrement on the sidewalk in front of their home. They have collected the excrement and wish to hand it over to an investigator.
1 p.m. Thursday. Town Park. An anonymous caller reports that a young man is flying a kite that has a obscene image on it. She thinks it's a nude woman, although she didn't have her good eyeglasses that day.
12:25 p.m. Dill Pickle Road. Mrs. M reports that, never mind. There are no suspicious youths. Her neighbor was simply rearranging his garden gnomes.
I doubt my editors will allow me to reinvent my reporting in this manner, but I have my ways. I'll make my news reporting more charming and intimate even if I have to force it.
The next time there's a triple homicide in your neighborhood, don't be surprised if I come knocking on your door. We can talk about the murder if you want to, but frankly, Mrs. Hardscrabble, I find I'm more interested in your Siamese and that new trick you've got him doing.
Say ... do you have any crab apple pie?